Lalibela: Mule Ride up to Mountaintop Church

Trip Start Oct 11, 2012
Trip End Nov 19, 2012

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Where I stayed
What I did
Bete Amanuel (possibly the former royal chapel);
Bete Merkorios (which may be a former prison);
Bete Abba Libanos
Bete Gabriel-Rufael (possibly a former royal palace)
Monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church (possibly from the 11th century)

Flag of Ethiopia  , Amhara Region,
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I had been plagued by a sore throat - not really scratchy, but constricted feeling.  We got up early for our mule ride to the church on the top of the hill - monastery of Ashetan Maryam.  Going up wasn't too bad.  We rode on the mules, walked a bit, then rode some more, and then walked the last bit up.  I was slow - even with my sticks.  We rested at various lookout points. 

My mule man was a very nice old man (gray whiskers, but probably younger than I), and when a boy wanted me to buy him a coke, I was happy to.  Of course, all these things are very controversial and you never really know what to do so...  When I was paying the boy, Kibrom came over and said we were not to buy sodas for the mulemen.  Then he explained, we shouldn't be forced to buy sodas for the mulemen, but we could if we wanted to.  I had wanted to, but in the confusion, my man's coke was taken away and he ended up with a sprite or something else.  I don't even know what he wanted or whether he wanted such a dubious treat, but I tried to get the boy to give him his preference.  What a mess!

We went into the Yimrehane Kristos church, but I can't remember that much about it really.  It was similar to the others we had seen yesterday - maybe not as exciting as some of them.  After visiting the church and retrieving our shoes, we went up to the lookout above the church and took photos, looked at the view of Lalibela from above and the patchwork of fields.  One of my most lasting impressions of Ethiopia I am sure will be a patchwork of golden wheat fields (or some other unidentified grain, maybe tef) amidst bright green ones.  I guess it is no surprise considering that 85% of the people are farmers.

Going down was harder - as usual.  There were stones and loose gravel.  After I slipped a few times and then fell on my butt - being quickly plucked up by Kibrom and my muleman and his helper, I was firmly grasped by the latter two and practically carried down the slope.  But, for my part, I did have to do my best to pick my way so that both men could find a foothold on either side of me.  I don't think they necessarily appreciated my efforts ....and to be realistic, they probably hardly needed them, but it soothed my ego to think that I was helping them

The downward mule rides were more challenging too even though the mules hardly seemed to slip at all and someone had noted that they were not shod.  My little black mule had longer ears than most and was a thoroughly well-mannered animal.  These mules hardly balked at all - more like stopping to pick their way at perilous points - and never stopped to eat, like other animals I have ridden in distant parts of the world.  I am not sure I can tell a mule from a donkey and maybe this lot was a bit mixed up, so maybe my mule wasn't even a mule.  I don't know.

As we progressed down, I found that I was a little bit steadier in the saddle (after following Sarah's instructions to someone else on centering gravity in your core) and I managed to stay seated on some pretty hairy sections over rocky drops (little drops, but still over a foot down I am sure).  And I did it without any instructions or assistance!!  Other than the muleman leading his mule with a rope at his side, that is.  Further salve for my bruised ego!  At the ride's end, my seat was sore, but I was happy.  I took a photo that didn't come out too well because my muleman's face was in shadow.  I gave him my tip and he seemed pleased so that made me happy too because he had been so helpful and sweet.

In the afternoon we visited a second set of stone churches in Lalibela, the Eastern group:  Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St.
Mercoreos), Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos), Biete Gabriel
Raphael (House of Gabriel Raphael), and Biete Lehem (House of Holy
Bread).  These were not too different from the first set, but I was totally dragging.  I don't know if it was the allergy pill that I had taken for my symptoms, but I was so tired I could hardly manage to take photos.  Instead of going to dinner, I headed to bed after picking up my made-to-order watercolor where Sian had bought her first drawing.  The artist was recommended by at least one of the guidebooks.  Of the guidebooks on Ethiopia, Sian's Bradt was the most highly rated.  See, guide books get rated too.  Kibrom had told us more than once how outdated so many of them are....

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